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The Curse: Confronting the Last…

The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation

by Karen Houppert

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What do menstrual taboos have to do with the environmental and health hazards of tampons? Karen Houppert dives into this question and more in a well-researched exploration of misogyny, menstrual products, and corporate abuses in 20th century America. Before reading, I'd had no idea that the dangers of tampons extended beyond TSS, and I recognized in the pages the corporate-sponsored puberty eduction classes of the '90s. Published in 1999, it's an interesting read, with personal interviews, retro ads, and shocking statistics.

Houppert's critique falls short, however, when she fails to apply her scrutiny to the realm of sexuality. Oftentimes in her analysis, Houppert blames sex-negative American culture, rather than misogynist American culture, for the silence around menstruation. Her suggestion that coed puberty classes would solve menstrual taboos seems short-sighted, and she never reflects on the role of compulsory heterosexuality in the lives of women.

The book explores alternatives to menstrual taboos, including 1970s cultural feminism and its descendants into the '90s, but her ire towards these movements seems disproportionate.

I was also confused by her complete denial that (1) women might have valid reasons to modify their behavior when menstruating (for example, not wearing a bikini or going swimming), and (2) menstrual blood has a distinct smell (the term "odor" constantly accompanied by scare quotes). Houppert goes out of her way to dismiss these realities as false beliefs, failing to acknowledge that some women might bleed more heavily than her prescriptive view of a modern-day, liberated period.
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
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